MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Lorenzo and Honda: will they win?
Jorge Lorenzo’s shock move to Repsol Honda caught pretty much everyone by surprise. What are the precedents and how will the deal work out?
In December 1988, a letter from Rothmans Honda chattered through fax machines of editorial offices around the world, announcing that reigning 500cc world champion Eddie Lawson was quitting Marlboro Yamaha Team Agostini to race Rothmans Hondas the following season.
Editors and journalists stared at the letter in disbelief.
A few days later their befuddlement was complete when a fax arrived from Marlboro Yamaha Team Agostini, announcing that Rothmans Honda’s former world champion Freddie Spencer would ride YZR500s in 1989.
‘Steady’ Eddie on a Honda? ‘Fast’ Freddie on a Yamaha? It was like the sky had fallen in. Californian Lawson had won three world titles for Yamaha and Louisianan Spencer had won three world titles for Honda. Their duels on their YZR500s and NSR500s were the stuff of legend. Each name was synonymous with each brand; it seemed inconceivable that both were defecting. One American Lawson fan was so upset he christened his former hero the anti-Christ.
The winter of 1988/1989 was definitely Grand Prix racing’s silliest of silly seasons. Or was it? How about the winter of 1957/1958 when the dominant Italian manufacturers – Gilera, MV Agusta, Mondial and Moto Guzzi – all agreed to withdraw from Grand Prix racing, because a slump in motorcycle sales had hit them hard?
Soon after crafty Count Domenico Agusta announced that MV Agusta would continue racing. The marque went on to win the next 17 500c world championships, all the way to 1974. The Count wasn’t too bothered by the slump in bike sales because he made most of his money selling helicopters to dodgy regimes around the world (full story in Motor Sport magazine, out at the end of July).
Jorge Lorenzo’s move to Honda isn’t quite as dramatic as that, but it’s a remarkable moment in MotoGP history, not least because of the way it came about: the first MotoGP world champion to successfully adapt to the Ducati tricked us all by signing for Honda at the very moment we thought he was about to run back to Yamaha. It’s a very brave move. Only time will tell if it’s the right move.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.